Drug Use in Australia

Australia’s Profile

Australia is the 50th most populous nation in the world with a population of over 22 million people. The country is known for its diverse multicultural citizens that come from all around the world, though the majority of immigrants are from English-speaking backgrounds including England and Ireland. The country has high literacy rates, high life-expectancy rates and is known for its high standards of living, healthcare and education. The average age of residents of Australia is 37 years old, with 99.2 males to every 100 females.

Statistics by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reveal that drug use in Australia is not common nor is it an accepted social norm. Use of any illicit substance is relatively uncommon, with 60 percent of people aged over 14 years have never used an illicit drug. The average age of first use of drugs is 19, with less than 2 percent of drug users injecting substances. In 2010, only 15 percent of people aged over 14 years had used one or more drug in the past 12 months. Most Australians do not support legalization of illicit drugs but do support harm minimization strategies.

Cannabis is the most commonly used illicit drug (10%) followed by ecstasy (3%) and amphetamines and cocaine (2.1%). Use of pharmaceutical drugs for non-medical use was commonly reported by those who used drugs with 3% using painkillers or analgesics and 1.5% using tranquilizers in this way. However, it should be noted that less than 10 percent of the population have or have had a drug use disorder (addiction/dependency) in their lifetime.

The profile of a drug user in Australia is not one that is set, however those who are unemployed are more likely to recently have used an illicit drug than the unemployed. Additionally, it is revealed that people who identify as homosexual or bisexual were twice as likely to have used cannabis or other illicit drugs in the past year. This is not to suggest that those within other social groups are unlikely to use drugs as evidence suggests that young men are the most common drug users within Australia. Young men are also known to be those who are more likely to be involved in other risky activities such as binge drinking and driving while under the influence. Drug use is known to reduce after the age of 30 when people become more involved in families, jobs and other activities that do not allow for the regular use of drugs. This trend is mirrored in other first-world nations like the United States and Canada.

Costs of Drug Use

Substance abuse is a contributor to social, personal and financial burdens to both the individual and the society at large. Substance abuse contributes to health care costs, workplace issues, family problems, mental health issues, accidents and deaths. The social cost of drug use was estimated to be $8.2 billion which includes the costs relating to crime, loss of productivity and healthcare. Additionally, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare estimates that drug use accounts for 2 percent of Australia’s total disease burden.

Drug use is known to be a factor in involvement of violent crimes, personal crimes, vehicular accidents, sexual assaults and rape. Illegal drugs can cause a person to become involved in relationships with people that are harmful, codependent and dangerous. Infections, diseases and illnesses relating to drug use are common and can be easily transmitted to non-using partners or relatives. Research by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Center reveals that over 30 percent of people who used drugs had unprotected sexual relationships with three to five different partners in the last 6 months. The same study showed that over 40 percent had never been tested for a sexually transmitted infection. These statistics are worrying for the spread of infectious diseases like HIV and hepatitis which have serious and potentially fatal outcomes.

Reduction in Demand and Use

The Australian government is committed to reducing the demand and use of illicit drugs and conversely, reducing the social burden that drugs cause. The focus of these policies is to have an increase in education campaigns in schools, colleges and universities about the harm that drugs cause. These campaigns include information relating to alcohol and tobacco use. The government has spent over $84 million on prevention programs over the past year and has committed to continuing spending on these campaigns.

In addition to education and harm minimization policies, the Australian government has committed to working on reducing supply routes for drugs with extra resources being contributed to surveillance and policing programs that focus on drug distribution. Offenses relating to drug manufacturing, possession and distribution contribute significantly to the prison population. Statistics reveal that more than 85,000 arrests in 2009 / 2010 were for drug offenses. Two-thirds of these were for cannabis and 81 percent of all arrests in 2009/2010 were for use or possession of an illegal substance. One in ten sentenced prisoners in 2010 had an illicit drug offense listed as their most serious offense.

Legal Highs

The increasing popularity and use of research chemicals worldwide is also mirrored in Australia. Many young people are seeking out these potentially dangerous and illegal substances and taking them in preference to other illegal drugs. This poses many problems for the young person and for law enforcement officials who are seeking to ban these dangerous drugs before they are able to be legally distributed in head shops and online.

Investigators in Australia have found that there has been an increase in the number of clandestine laboratories in Australia that are manufacturing these drugs. These laboratories are often run by people who are not trained in using chemicals and are supplying these substances without any knowledge of the health implications of using these drugs. Research chemicals may pose great risks when used or combined with other drugs, including alcohol.

Increase in Methamphetamine Use

Methamphetamine is a devastating drug that can cause major social, physical and mental problems. It is known to be a cause of many health problems, contribute to relationship breakdowns and financial ruin. Methamphetamine use in Australia has been found to be on a steady increase since the 1990’s and is considered a serious health problem for the community. Methamphetamine is an incredibly addictive substance that is often made in home-laboratories from a combination of toxic chemicals. Health care workers and law enforcement officers consider methamphetamine to be one of the most dangerous drugs due to the effects the drugs can have on a person’s mental health and behavior.

Evidence suggests that methamphetamine use has increased in Australia as the use of opiates has declined. This may be in part due to effective policing strategies that have stopped the influx of heroin into Australia from overseas, or because of an increase in the cost of heroin. Some heroin users have turned to methamphetamine as an alternative drug that is cheaper and readily available but this drug can have more dire consequences than heroin. For health workers and police, the move from heroin to methamphetamine is concerning due to the increase in violence and involvement in criminal activities.

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